Chicago Blackhawks: A look back at Pierre Pilote’s career

There is no doubt that Pierre Pilote played a crucial role in shaping the Chicago Blackhawks and that he left his mark on the hockey world. The former defenseman who played throughout the fifties and sixties passed away on September 9th, 2017 at the age of 85.

Pilote made such an impact in Chicago that his number, 3, was retired in 2008 and continues to hang from the rafters at the United Center. Alongside his number are those of Keith Magnuson, Denis Savard, and Stan Mikita. Though he is known as one of the Blackhawks legends, he was always humble about it. He gave credit to his teammates, including his defensive partner, Elmer Vasko.

Pilote did not actually get strongly into the game of hockey until 17, when he began playing organized hockey. He then played for the St. Catharines Teepees during his junior hockey years, before moving on to the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL. He spent four years with the Bisons before moving up to the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1955-56 season. Though he did end up spending a little more time with the Bisons during that season, he eventually returned to the Blackhawks where he ended up playing for thirteen seasons. Additionally, he played one season with the Toronto Maple Leafs before retiring in 1969.

During his many years of playing, Pilote appeared in 890 games and put up 80 goals, as well as 418 assists. Of those 890 games, 376 were played consecutively and 821 were with the Blackhawks. Thanks to his amazing talent, he was part of one of the all-star teams from 1960 to 1967, not missing a single year in between. He was especially great on the Hawks powerplay as well and could stick handle past many of his opponents. He kept the blue line closed off to his opponents and similar to current Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith, he was always a solid presence on the ice and missed few games.

Despite being labeled as a defenseman, Pilote’s best plays came from the fact that his mind worked on both offense and defense. He knew that his job was to keep his opponent from scoring, but he also knew that if he could keep that puck away from them, he could take away the majority of their opportunities. His sheer number of assists show that he could read plays very well and knew how to handle a situation, whether it was on one end of the ice or another. It was a strong skill for any NHL player to have back then, and it still is today with players like Marian Hossa being labeled as greats, thanks to their two-way playing ability.

During the 1960’s, Pilote was regarded as one of hockey’s best, if not the best, defensemen. He helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 1961, and then was named their captain, serving from 1961 to 1968. One of the best marks of an NHL defenseman is having one’s name on the Norris Trophy and for Pierre, it was truly a measure of his talent. He won the trophy three times in a row, during 1963, 1964, and 1965. Only eight defensemen in NHL history have completed that feat, including Bobby Orr (Boston Bruins), Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Redwings), and Ray Bourque (Boston Bruins). In 1975, Pilote was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Pierre Pilote left a lasting legacy with the Blackhawks and it will continue to live on in hockey history. The current team can take tips from his style of play, adapting that sense of two-way play to today’s style of the game, as well as Pilote’s strength and his way of powering through many games. Though hockey has lost one of their greats, Pilote was able to give himself to the game and in return, changed it in a way that will impact hockey players for many years to come. For all that he gave to the game, Chicago and their fans thank him and will remember him for years to come.

Yardbarker: NHL

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